THE BLOG
08/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bloomberg's Safest Big City Claim

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election campaign claims the FBI ranks New York as the safest large city in America.

That claim is false and Bloomberg knows it.

The FBI doesn't rank cities and specifically states that it's misleading to use its statistics that way.

When Bloomberg made the same claim during his mayoral run in 2005, a complaint from the FBI led his campaign to yank the FBI reference from its political ads, according to an FBI official.

"They modified their ad," the official said. "But now they're doing it again."

While the mayor can rightfully claim, as his ads do, that "New York City has never been safer," and that "crime is down nearly 30 per cent since he took office," his placing the FBI's imprimatur on his campaign wagon, in a graphic and voice-over, appears to go too far.

That's because Mayor Mike's "Safest City in America" claim relies on the FBI's 2008 Preliminary Uniform Crime Report, which lists major felonies for each city by such categories as murder, rape, burglary and grand larceny.

But the report contains a "Please Note" section with cautionary language about rankings, saying, "Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities. "

It also says, "The FBI discourages data users from ranking agencies and using the data as a measurement of law enforcement effectiveness."

Nowhere in the UCR tabulations is there a ranking of cities.

In fact back in 2004, the FBI cautioned that the crime index highlighted by the Bloomberg campaign "has not been a true indicator off the degree of criminality" because it gives the same weight to non-violent crimes as to violent ones.

For example, the non-violent crimes of larceny -- theft -- comprised nearly 60 per cent of all reported crime, and as the FBI said then, "the sheer volume of those offenses overshadows more serious but less frequently committed offenses" such as rape, robbery or murder.

Instead of totaling all these crimes together, says the FBI official, a more accurate gauge of safety in any city is totaling purely violent crime, which the FBI does not do.

Reality, however, has not stopped the NYPD or New York's last two mayors from touting New York as "the safest large city in America," year after year.

In fact that claim pre-dates Bloomberg and was first made by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Police sources say the genius whose fingerprints appear on the manipulated figures appears to be Michael Farrell, who served under Giuliani and is currently the Deputy Police Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives.

Farrell did not return a phone call from this reporter. Attempts to reach the Bloomberg campaign and its director Bradley Tusk were unsuccessful.

This is not to say that New York has not drastically reduced both violent and non-violent crime since the beginning of the Giuliani years.

In fact, crime began falling under Kelly when he served for 16 months in his first term as police commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins, although not at the steep rates of Kelly's three successors appointed by Giuliani, William Bratton, Howard Safir and Bernard Kerik.

Returning as commissioner under Bloomberg, Kelly has apparently adapted some of their tactics while adding his own.

So that while New York may not legitimately be called the safest large city in America, crime in New York under Bloomberg and Kelly is at its lowest levels since the 1960s.

KUDOS OR SYCOPHANTS? Except perhaps for the Manhattan Institute, the police department's Hispanic Society boasts the greatest collection of toadies in New York.

A recent love note to Commissioner Kelly begins: "Prior to 2002, no other police commissioner has been as dedicated as Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly regarding the advancement and promotion of Hispanics [sic] Executives to various assignments. ...

"Since Police Commissioner Kelly returned to the Police Department in 2002, there has been a 69 per cent increase in the number of Hispanics promoted to discretionary ranks above Captain...

"Commissioner Kelly was also responsible for a 55 per cent increase in the number of Hispanics occupying discretionary ranks below captain, compared to 2001....

"Hispanic representation in ranking positions was found throughout the NYPD commands, including the Patrol Services, Detective, Transit and Housing Bureaus.

"This significant increase in discretionary promotions both above and below the rank of captain in percentages and raw numbers - was directed by Commissioner Kelly at a time when the NYPD headcount is significantly lower than it was in 2001...."

The statement added: "We support Commissioner Kelly and we're setting the record straight. regarding Hispanic promotions within the NYPD."

We don't pretend to understand what record the Hispanic Society believes needs clarification. Their letter may be referring to this column's report last week that following the racially charged "friendly fire" shooting of an off-duty black officer, Kelly appeared to be playing musical chairs in promoting one Hispanic chief and shuffling another.

The same column also pointed out that Kelly has not significantly increased the numbers of black officers at top levels of the department as he has Hispanics.

Bur recall that 15 years ago, the Hispanic Society broke with its traditional non-partisan political stance and supported Mayor Rudy Giuliani for mayor. Giuliani then appointed Hispanic Society president Walter Alicea Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs and placed his top deputies in enviable department slogs.

This prompted the formation of a runaway group known as the Latino Officers Association, which has since been at odds with the department.

A call to the Hispanic Society was not returned.